Compassionate activism needs volunteers

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

I read the story about Alaska's meteoric rise up the State of Caring Index at least three times and I'm not sure I got it. It first appeared like something I would have come up with, a way to quantify how nice/not nice we are to each other. What a great way to help Santa decide what to bring us. Santa, if I am reading it correctly, being the United Way's potential corporate donors.

Actually, I am disappointed to realize the State of Caring Index evaluates economic and financial health rather than, you know, actual incidences of kindness or compassion. I was hoping for reports like the one a few years ago from Anchorage where parking meter fairies were the plague of the police department. Women with little wings and wands were roaming downtown Anchorage, feeding near-starving parking meters to prevent parking tickets. There may have been a teensy bit of politics involved, but it was also a great act of compassion.

Surely the United Way would expand the Index to cover more than economics if they simply had the data. That's where you can help. Start documenting all the instances of compassion you witness. Carry a notebook, tape recorder or Palm Pilot and get in the habit of jotting down all the times you are not run down in a crosswalk, for example. When someone swerves on a bicycle to avoid you on a trail, make a note. See someone actually picking up dog poop on Sandy Beach? Got it and got it.

I don't know about you, but I see compassionate behavior all the time. Alaskans aren't all nice all the time, but a huge number of them pick up other people's trash, shovel public walks, help carry heavy stuff and do their best to direct lost summer visitors. You won't believe this, so I will take careful notes, but sometimes drivers let me into line in front of them. I also see a lot of sharing. Many people share their fish, wild meat, their campsites and even their chocolate. No one shares a secret berry patch, but no one would expect that.

One of the standards of the State of Caring Index is the number of people living below the federal poverty level. For many people, proximity to the poverty level has very little to do with their quality of life. The relationship with neighbors, a feeling of safety in the community and all the little things they see and hear every day may have a greater influence on their satisfaction with their lives. It's the details like a neighbor's cat at what hour, where the carrier tosses the newspaper or a funny story in the grocery store that can make all the difference.

The United Way may need a few helpers to tabulate all the information we send them on door holding, old lady helping and dropped wallet returning, but think how well Alaska will do next year with the bigger picture of compassion documented.

Norm Smith of Haines will receive a $25 gift certificate from Glacier Restaurant for submitting "Out of the Woods" as the name for Nita Nettleton's columns.



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